Chances are you’ve been out on a mountain bike ride when you heard a buzzing noise coming from behind. It likely got louder and louder until it seemed like it was everywhere, until you heard “on your left!” called out. Then the owner of Industry Nine’s ultra-high engagement hubs probably squeezed by to continue bombing their way down the trail. I9’s long-time flagship hub, the Torch, has 120 points of engagement and sounds like a pack of killer-bees coming after you. The Hydra hub, released in 2019, bumped engagement up to 690 points, decreased the decibels a bit, and added larger, longer-lasting bearings.
Often, you’ll see Hydra Classic hubs out on the trail, which use traditional steel J-bend spokes. But depending on how fast these wheels zoomed by you, you may have caught a glimpse of some gorgeous multicolored, large diameter spokes. I remember the first time I saw them, at a downhill race in Virginia. I immediately knew they were cool and different, but at the time felt like too much of a newbie to ask what they were. What they were is Industry Nine’s System Wheels, and since you may very well have the same question, I figured I could take the time to explain what they are and why they are so special.
What is the Industry Nine "System?"
The Industry Nine System refers to a hub, spoke, and rim structure that function together to create the highest level of performance possible. They differ from a traditional mountain bike wheel in several ways.
Most notably, the spokes are straight-pull (the J-bend is eliminated) and made of aluminum instead of steel. Because of aluminium’s physical properties compared to steel, the spoke needs to have a larger diameter to achieve the same strength as a traditional steel spoke, but without a weight penalty. Using aluminum also allows Industry Nine to anodize the spokes into all those gorgeous colors.
This larger diameter and straight-pull design also lets the company do some interesting things. Firstly, they can machine a rounded ball-end tip on the spoke, allowing for a direct interface between it and the rim. Secondly, they can then remove the hub shell’s flanges, and replace them with holes that the spokes thread into directly. Think of the spoke in this case as a long bolt that screws directly into the hub. These two factors allow Industry Nine to eliminate a weak point of a normal wheel - the nipple.
And of course we can’t talk about wheels without talking about the rim. For 2020, Industry Nine has teamed up with We Are One, another company considered a benchmark of quality. This Canadian outfit has been making their beautiful carbon rims in Kamloops, BC since 2017, and they do an incredible job. A new series of rims, built to Industry Nine’s specifications, has hit the scene this year, and here I’ll focus on those in particular.
So, we know these wheels are extra cool and super fancy, but what does that matter if these wheels can’t walk the wa… roll the roll? I have been riding 29” EN315 carbon hoops laced up to a set of red Hydra hubs for just under 1000 miles now, and figured the time was right to tell you what I think.
“Perfect compliance” - what does that mean?
If you’ve spent any time researching wheels, you’ll have heard the terms “compliance” and “stiffness” getting thrown around a lot. It gets hard to tell what is up from down, as they are often used in seemingly contradictory ways. Do you want more stiffness, or more compliance? Is radial stiffness a good thing, or is it torsional stiffness you want? It all starts to get confusing, and quickly.
First things first, definitions. “Compliance” is defined as “the ability of an object to yield elastically when a force is applied; flexibility.” It is, essentially, the opposite of stiffness.
To say that “compliance is good” and “stiffness is bad,” or vice versa, is much too general a statement. After all, when we turn our handlebars, we want our wheel to turn with it, not twist and bend. That would be lateral compliance, which we don’t really want in our wheels. What folks are typically talking about when they say a wheelset has “good compliance” is radial (vertical) compliance, or the degree to which the rim is able to deflect towards the hub when you smash it into a rock.
There are a lot of variables that dictate the vertical compliance of a wheel, including the type of spoke used, the lacing pattern, and the rim’s cross-sectional profile. Compliance can be a good trait: a wheel that is more vertically compliant transfers less of the force of trail impacts to the rider, resulting in a smoother ride. But it can also be bad: if enough rider input doesn’t get transferred to the trail, the bike will feel vague and un-inspiring. In extreme cases, the wheel may not be up to the required task and simply fail.
More than just a good wheel
With the System wheels, Industry Nine has controlled these variables to a point that they think is optimal for the intended purpose. In the case of the EN315 rims, that is aggressive, gravity oriented riding and enduro racing. My wheelset mates Industry Nine’s stiff alloy spokes to this 31.5mm wide rim with a fairly shallow depth of 21mm. This makes for a lot of lateral stiffness and creates a wheel that, when being piloted down fast, challenging trails, tracks your line like it’s on target lock. The shallow rim depth meshes with the stiff spokes to provide feedback to the rider that doesn’t come off as harsh and fatiguing, and allows you to really seek out every little pocket in the trail and pump for extra speed. The combination of the stiff alloy spokes with the vertically compliant EN315 rim creates a good middle ground. You don’t feel like a pinball getting bounced around.
As their enduro specific rim, an EN315 System wheelset is designed to go on a 140-170mm travel bike like my Transition Sentinel V2, and to be run with 2.3-2.6” wide tires like the Maxxis Assegai and Specialized Eliminator. The 29” rim weighs 468 grams, 58 grams more than the TR280 (discipline: trail, width: 28mm), and 12 grams less than the comparable We Are One Union rim.
The wheels themselves, with rim tape, weigh in at 1790 grams. Despite the thick-sidewall tires I run (Maxxis EXO+ in the front, Specialized’s BLCK DMND in the back), these wheels still manage to feel light-weight. Compared to my Stan’s Flow wheelset these replaced, the EN315’s have a more precise, snappy sensation, akin to the feeling of using a sharp, Wüsthof chef’s knife instead of your grandma’s old hand-me-down. Having good tools just makes everything better.
The little details
As mentioned earlier, these wheels are drop-dead gorgeous. There is no doubt that part of their allure is their beauty. A Ferrari isn’t a Ferrari just because it’s fast. It has to look and sound the part, and when you mount a set of System Wheels up to your bike, that’s what you get. The capacity to mix and match colors down to individual spokes makes these the perfect canvas for the ultimate mountain bike build.
Even the driver noise is something that Industry Nine’s engineers have taken into consideration, making sure that the timbre and tone of the ratcheting is auditorily pleasing. The Hydra hubs emit that soft, pleasant hum that is more similar to a purr than the Torch’s angry, sharp sound.
All the thought, testing, time, and effort that Industry Nine put into these wheels in conjunction with We Are One is easy to see, and it’s easy to pick up on when you ride them. But where the quality is really most evident is when you’re building these wheels up. Wheel building is a fairly intimate process; you’re taking these various lifeless pieces and lacing them up in the perfect pattern, and then slowly, evenly, carefully, putting energy and tension into them until you have a finely tuned machine.
It becomes obvious very quickly when we build wheels with poor quality parts; whether it’s a rim with an inherent flat spot, or spokes that don’t have clean threads, small inconsistencies make themselves readily apparent. A good wheel builds up smoothly and quickly, with even spoke tensions and a rim that’s 100% true every which way. Wheels like this stay straighter and stronger for longer. They require less maintenance, and inspire more confidence. With Industry Nine System wheels, we get that with every build.
The most important part of your bike
Wheels are arguably the most important component of a bicycle. They define it. Under ideal circumstances your wheels disappear beneath you, becoming your connection to the trail. They are the difference between hiking and mountain biking, the reason so many of us can barely bring ourselves to partake in the prior any more.
Wheels aren’t given enough credit in our sport, with the lion’s share of attention given to more glamorous parts like suspension. But they put up with an astonishing amount of abuse - think of the torque your hub driver transfers to the ground, or the dynamic impact encountered by your rim every time you case a jump. And their function is crucial to our pursuits. I’ve often argued that they are the first thing outside of the frame itself that you should consider when building up a new bike.
Does that mean you need Industry Nine System wheels to have a good time? No, it certainly does not. Any hand-built wheelset you buy from us is going to be built with the same care and expertise, and will last you a lifetime if you maintain it properly. But an Industry Nine System wheelset is going to elevate the performance and appearance of your bike to a level that a $600 wheelset simply cannot. The System is for people who want the best of the best.
Build them Custom
Fanatik is the only source outside of Industry Nine for custom built System wheels. We are the only shop they’ve trusted to have the expertise and consistent performance to build their wheels up, a title we are proud to have. With our new Color Picker in the Visual Wheel Builder, we are also the best place to design and order your set.
Not only can you pick each individual spoke color, but you can mix and match Industry Nine’s rims to create a wheelset tuned specifically for you. Maybe you want the extra heft of the EN315 rim on the back, but prefer to run the lighter TR280 on the front. You can also order them with CushCore and two new tubeless tires installed, ready to roll at your door.
So check out the Visual Wheel Builder here, and if you have any questions about what I’ve talked about here, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Happy trails - Dan at Fanatik
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